Menthol Ban Failed to Boost Illegal Sales

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    Banning menthol cigarettes does not lead more smokers to purchase menthols from illicit sources, according to a new research study published in Tobacco Control.

    Researchers at the International Tobacco Control (ITC) Policy Evaluation Project at the University of Waterloo evaluated the impact of federal and provincial menthol cigarette bans in Canada by surveying smokers of menthol and nonmenthol cigarettes before and after Canada’s menthol ban. 

    Smokers were asked whether their usual cigarette brand was menthol-flavored and to report their last brand purchased. Those who were still smoking after the menthol ban were also asked where they last purchased their cigarettes. 

    Results showed that after the ban, there was no significant change in the purchase of cigarettes from First Nations reserves, the main source of illicit cigarettes in Canada. 

    “The tobacco industry has a long history of claiming that policies to reduce smoking will lead to substantial increases in illicit trade,” said Janet Chung-Hall, a research scientist for ITC and lead author of the new study, in a statement. “We can add the Canadian menthol ban to the long list of effective policies, such as graphic warnings and plain packaging, whose evaluation disproved the scare tactics by industry—showing that illicit trade did not, in fact, increase.”

    A 2022 study that combined the ITC project data with data from a comparable Ontario evaluation study showed that the Canadian menthol ban led to an increase of 7.3 percent in quitting among menthol smokers above that of nonmenthol smokers. Projecting this effect to the U.S., whose Food and Drug Administration has proposed its own menthol ban, the ITC researchers estimate that a U.S. menthol ban would lead 1.33 million smokers to quit.

    “Our previous research from Canada and the Netherlands showed that a menthol cigarette ban leads to significant reductions in smoking,” said Geoffrey Fong, principal investigator of the ITC project and professor of psychology and public health sciences at Waterloo. “These findings combine to provide powerful evidence in support of FDA’s proposed menthol ban.”